Resolved: On balance, economic sanctions are reducing the threat Russia poses to Western interests.
The topic is relevant to the current situation insofar as the west, led by the U.S., has imposed economic sanctions on Vladimir Putin's Russia in response to perceived Russian aggression in Crimea and Ukraine in early 2014. In response, Russia has likewise imposed sanctions on many EU countries and the U.S. Whether or not the west was justified in its claims leading to the imposition of sanctions is a matter of debate. This resolution seems to imply the rationale for sanctions was based on perceived threats to western interests although the true rationale is no doubt much more complex. What constitutes national interests is often a nebulous set of values but according to some international relations theories, national interests tend be guided by the need to preserve the sovereignty of the state and protect the sense of well-being of its citizens.
In the world of international relations theories one often speaks of hard power and soft power. Hard power is best understood as an exercise in military or economic strength to influence the behavior of another country. In contrast, soft power is the ability to influence other countries to go along with a course of action, not through an exercise of might but rather through diplomatic influence and spending a kind of political capital which inspires others to cooperate for the mutual benefit of all. It is probably not surprising for you to learn that when a nation militarily attacks another it is an exercise of hard power. It may surprise you to know that economic sanctions are also considered an exercise in hard power since the long term effects of economic sanctions can be quite damaging to a country. It is argued that sanctions are in some ways worse than a military strike because it is a drawn-out, slow-paced attack that causes wide-spread suffering when implemented effectively. Nearly one year after the decision to impose sanctions, U.S. Public Forum debaters can now look at the Pro and Con sides of the issue and decide whether or not the sanctions have served the implied purpose of reducing threats to western interests.
Three times in the past, Lincoln-Douglas debaters have tackled the issue of economic sanctions. Most recently in early 2010 with, "Resolved: Economic sanctions ought not be used to achieve foreign policy objectives." I remember this debate very well as it allowed LDers to thoroughly explore the use of sanctions as weapon for achieving policy objectives. This debate will be less philosophical and will probably utilize more of a cost-benefit framework. This particular topic is potentially interesting because it will inspire a broad spectrum of research. Conversely, this topic is potentially bad because perhaps it is overly broad and thus difficult to debate within the context of 4-4-2-2 speech times. Debaters will be required to setup an "on balance" weighing mechanism; focus on key western interests which, please note, are not limited to U.S interests; establish that prior to sanctions those interests were threatened by Russia; and then prove the current regime of economic sanctions have reduced the threat. Of course, the definition of reduce is potentially open for multiple interpretations. This is a lot for a four minute constructive. On the Con side of the debate, since Con is required to establish a position of advocacy, debaters have a multitude of potential positions which may or may not directly refute the Pro. Con may claim, western interests were not and are not 'threatened' or Con may claim there were and are threats to western interests and economic sanctions did not and are not reducing the threat(s). In fact, Con may decide sanctions have only served to broaden the threat to western interests by arousing the tensions and mistrust that have long been integral to Russian-western relations.
For this definition I repeat what I said for last month's resolution. It is certainly not the first time we have seen these words in debate and the meaning should be obvious if you think in terms of a balance-beam type of scale used to weigh things. On balance basically means, as the Collins English Dictionary puts it, "after weighing up all the factors". On balance is another way of saying after comparing one side to the other or specifically in debate terminology, after looking at the pros and cons. The comparison does not always have to be analysis of pros versus cons. Sometimes one can compare factors to standards (norms, known quantities, expectations, etc.) Often, this approach can be preferable to weighing up two unknowns on each side of the balance beam. Think about it, if one weighs one unknown against another unknown, it is, one presumes, possible to determine which weighs more but impossible to tell how much weight either side carries.
These are defined as a class of actions aimed at coercing a government to change its current policies or behaviors by restricting or eliminating trade and otherwise interfering with the economic sustainability of the target country or group.
Elliott, et al:
The term “economic sanctions” encompasses the deliberate, government-inspired withdrawal, or threat of withdrawal, of customary trade or financial relations. (“Customary” refers to the levels of trade or financial activity that would probably have occurred in the absence of sanctions.)
reducing (to reduce)
The present progressive form of 'to reduce', defined by Merriam Webster as "to make (something) smaller in size, amount, number, etc." If this was policy debate, the word reducing could be interpreted in very specific ways, some of which can be abusive to one side of the debate or the other. I am hoping it is not necessary to provide detailed specifics as to percentages or amounts of reduction and indeed that can be avoided if the levels of threat can be roughly conceived as either diminishing, remaining steady or increasing. What I think may complicate the broad debate is the nature of the threat since threats have different weights. By this I mean, suppose it is shown Russia has reduced the numbers of troops or paramilitary in Ukraine but increased economic sanctions against Ukraine. Is that a net increase or decrease in overall threat? I am not saying this is the situation, I am merely speculating as to how ugly the debate over "reducing" can potentially become.
Merriam Webster provides a complex definition of threat as "a declaration of an intention or determination to inflict punishment, injury, etc., in retaliation for, or conditionally upon, some action or course; menace" or "an indication or warning of probable trouble". The thing about threats is, they are merely indications. They are a perception that some harm is imminent or intended. Many moral theories justify proactive self-defense based solely on the perception of imminent danger (i.e. a threat) for which there is no alternative means of withdrawing from the threat. But, under most moral theories, the self-defensive action ought to be proportional to the level of threat. Again, I don't expect the debate over 'threat' to get too intense owing to the limited amount of speech time available in Public Forum debate but one can never be too sure.
For most of you, I assume Russia does not need to be formally defined and there is certainly good reason to believe your judge will know what Russia is. For those who don't know, look at a map of the world and notice that great big chunk of color which occupies nearly the entirety of northern Asia. Say hello to Russia. Russia is a vast and resource rich nation which ranks among the most powerful in the world, militarily and (to a lesser degree) economically. Formally, Russia was the heart of the Soviet Union and controlled most of eastern Europe as well as many of the now sovereign states in and around the Caucasus Mountains between the Caspian and Black Seas. When the Soviet Union broke up in the late 1980's early '90s, Russia emerged as the largest and undoubtedly most powerful nation of the former union, however, many of the resources and weapons were concentrated in nations which gained internationally recognized independence. I would urge you to spend some time researching the relationship between Russia, Ukraine, Crimea and the importance of the Black Sea region in general. In particular pay attention to Russia's perception of its own national interests and the role they played in arriving at the premises of this debate.
As defined by Merriam Webster, to set forth or put in place. It is not necessarily a contentious word and probably does not require definition in the debate. Basically when something is "posed" it means something is put forth for consideration.
Generally, we can define western interests as those pursuits the so-called western nations (principally the U.S. and E.U. and associated allies) deem most important in promoting well-being for the individual states and their citizens. Usually those interests include security, economic stability, and access to key resources. I do not want to spend too much time discussing the meaning in this part of the analysis. "Interests" are not always easy to pin-down and will vary according to who is expressing them in accordance with the ever-changing events of world affairs. Each debater will need to provide a reasonable explanation of western interests to some degree of specificity and this will be discussed more fully when the Pro and Con positions are presented.
Good luck. It is a lot to debate and I hope you find it very informative and interesting.
Elliott, KA; Hufbauer, GC; and Oegg, B, undated, Sanctions, The Concise Encyclopedia of Economics, accessed 12/2/2015 at: http://www.econlib.org/library/Enc/Sanctions.html